Are Online Restaurant Reviews Trustworthy

It’s Saturday night. You want to go out to dinner at a nice spot, but you’re tired of your go-to places. Or maybe you’re new in town or passing through on a trip and you have no one to ask for a recommendation. In short, your only options are just going old school and walking into a place that looks good from the outside, or looking up restaurants online and searching through reviews hoping to find a good place to eat.

Platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp were basically invented for this type of situation and they are incredibly influential. A research study by TripAdvisor told us that 87% of people in the U.S. are influenced by online reviews when deciding where to eat. The same percentage of people are inspired to try new restaurants based on TripAdvisor recommendations. And when people take to the internet to vent their frustration at a particular restaurant, it’s actually extremely damaging to the business. 94% of people say that an online review has convinced them to avoid a business altogether, while 87% of customers would simply avoid a business if it only had a one- or two-star rating.

Why Do Consumers Use Reviews?

According to the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology, there are four main reasons why customers read reviews on platforms such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google My Business:

  • Risk Reduction: Consumers use reviews to reduce the likelihood that a meal or purchase will lead to disappointment or at the very least reduce the severity of a potential disappointment.
  • Search-time Reduction: Consumers find it difficult to sift through information and options when confronted with an abundance of products. Creating a review platform thus reduces search costs and helps consumers source information about restaurants easily and quickly.
  • Avoid Buyers Remorse: Turning to reviews reduces the potential regret a consumer may have after spending an impactful amount of money on a dining experience.
  • Group Influence: This is significant, as the reviews expressed by peers in a review can affect the consumer’s perception and behavior, even though the individual has not yet visited a particular restaurant. A review platform can create or reinforce a communal spirit and influence the consumer’s decision.
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Why Do People Leave Reviews?

According to Yelp, most people who leave reviews fall into one of three categories:

  1. Altruistic People: These are people who are thankful for the insight they gained from reviews and want to give back. They provide honest reviews and have good intentions. They want to help others who rely on reviews.
  2. Aspiring Influencers: These are people who leave reviews for their own gain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it does not mean their reviews are untrue. Rather, they use reviews as a way to gain followers and keep track of their own experiences.
  3. People Who Want to Provide Feedback: The last category is people who actually want to leave feedback for businesses. This can be positive or negative. Those who fall into this category leave reviews that offer thanks or specific suggestions for improvement.

Other people may leave reviews for more sinister reasons, such as competitors trying to sabotage one another.

So with all this in mind, especially given the great influence that reviews carry, what should we look for in a restaurant review?

We have all been to restaurants where we find that it is nothing like the reviews online. This is because anything that someone rates online is inherently biased and shouldn’t be completely trusted. A customer’s expectations play a huge role in how they rate a restaurant. It becomes hard to decipher bad reviews from legitimate concerns and quality reviews with fair commentary. To find the best online reviews you must sift through a large selection of comments and understand that one person’s three-star rating is another person’s five.

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Things to Consider When Reading an Online Restaurant Review

Stick to Reviews Published On Trusted Sites

The most trusted platforms for the hospitality industry are TripAdvisor, Google My Business, and Yelp. It’s best to stick to trusted sites when searching for reviews about a business, as the internet is filled with questionable message boards where people can get carried away with their opinions.

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You Can Learn a Lot from Management Responses to Negative Reviews

If a restaurant receives negative reviews, how they respond is crucial. Most restaurant review platforms allow restaurants to respond to the reviews they receive. Others provide moderators to mediate disputes between the people who leave critical reviews and the restaurants that want to dispute those review claims.

If the restaurant is allowed to publicly respond (such as with TripAdvisor, Google My Business) to negative reviews, consumers should expect the restaurant’s responses to be measured, to address the points made in the review, and to touch on how the restaurant will do better in the future.

If the restaurant responds with an attack, especially if the attack is personal, then the negative review is perhaps more likely to be real. Even if it isn’t, it’s offensive to see a business engage in personal attacks, so consumers might want to steer clear of such a place. In fact, a recent study stated that 94% of people say they read management responses to negative reviews and use them to influence their decision about booking a particular restaurant.

Investigate Their Presence on Social Media

Who isn’t on social media these days? You can try your hand at investigative journalism and see what a restaurant is up to online. Facebook, in particular, is an essential hub for restaurant reviews. As well as being an easy place to check out reviews, you’re also likely to see lots of special offers and discounts posted on Facebook as well as see upcoming events and photos of special dishes. You could snare yourself a bargain by booking a table at a certain time or on a particular night so it’s well worth checking out social media before heading to the restaurant.

On the other side of the coin, a restaurant that last posted on social media years ago might be a place where the owners are not being hands-on and could be a negative as to how they run their restaurant.

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Fake Reviews Exist, Know How To Spot Them

Believe it or not, people and businesses are sad enough to write and publish fake reviews. The best way to identify fake reviews is by paying attention to what they actually say and whether they are relevant to the restaurant in question. If someone says that an upscale restaurant is very casual and has great hamburgers (especially after you look at the menu) you are probably looking at a fake review.

If you see many fairly generic reviews that are either overly positive OR overly negative this reviewer might be a troll, bot, or paid reviewer.

To save you the time of reading every review carefully, you can pay close attention to verified reviews which guarantees that the person supplying the feedback has actually been to the restaurant.

View Negative Reviews with a Grain of Salt

Every business is bound to receive a bad review once in a while. But when reading negative reviews, it’s important to be objective. A customer is more likely to leave a review after a negative experience than a positive one, which stands to reason. While some people try to be fair when leaving a negative review, others don’t hold back and blame the restaurant for pretty much ruining their lives. When reading these reviews, take them with a grain of salt. When people are angry or upset, they’re likely to blow things out of proportion and exaggerate, especially when sitting behind a computer screen telling the world how a restaurant ruined their 14-year-old’s birthday dinner.

Give Restaurants the Benefit of the Doubt

If you’ve heard positive things about a certain restaurant from friends or family, but you’re skeptical because of some shaky recent reviews, give them the benefit of the doubt and experience it for yourself. In some cases, an outbreak of negative reviews in a short space of time could be the result of one specific thing (a staff shortage, supply chain issue) and might affect a restaurant’s overall review score. If you do go and have a satisfying experience, be kind and leave a positive review. Restaurant owners are human and the’re allowed to err once in a while.

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Be Aware that Not Everyone Posts a Review 

It’s easy to overlook when reading reviews online that not everyone leaves a review. We’ve previously noted that people who have a negative experience are more likely to leave a review than those who had an enjoyable time. In fact, only one in eight diners tend to leave a review after visiting a restaurant, meaning the lion’s share of patrons that booked on any given day didn’t write about their experience. So while one customer was shattered because he had to wait 30 minutes for his entree, the rest of the customers probably had a pleasant experience.

Pay Attention to the Details

Customer reviews are getting shorter. Actually, the average review length has decreased by 65% since 2010 and now is just about the same length as a Tweet. It’s normal to see a super short headline, followed by a brief sentence, and a star rating summarizing the customer’s experience.

Nevertheless, if you really want to know what a restaurant is like, then it’s best to read longer reviews where diners go into detail about their experience.

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Check the Date of the Review

There is little value in basing your decision about whether or not to dine at a restaurant because they once served fish past its shelf life five years ago. Many things could have changed after all those years, even the management. Most review sites allow you to organize the customer reviews by listing the most recent at the top of the list, which makes certain you can get to the most current comments first. Reading these will give you a good indication of how the restaurant is presently functioning and should be significant in your decision making.

To Sum Up

Customer reviews are extremely important when it comes to restaurants people choose to visit. But as a prospective customer, you don’t have to believe everything you read. Try to be open-minded when perusing people’s sentiments about a specific restaurant, and always keep in mind that those who’ve had a bad experience are more likely to write about it. You should utilize reviews as guides that acquaint you with the best spots to dine with your family and friends, but don’t get too caught up in negative commentary; you will find that everywhere you look. Rather, follow our suggestions. If there are no glaring warming signs, give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt and experience it yourself.

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